The influenza vaccination in Sports Medicine: Is it effective?

Sport and Exercise Medicine: The UK trainee perspective (A BJSM blog series)

By Dr Justin Yeoh

fluThe flu may be an “un-sexy” aspect of Sports and Exercise Medicine, but it is nonetheless a topic of importance. Especially given that it is exceptionally common this time of year and afflicts athletes worldwide.

The NHS recommends an influenza vaccination for at risk groups to prevent illness (Immunisation against infectious disease – ‘The Green Book’, DoH).  Some professional sports clubs use this principle and administer the vaccine to large player squads. Due to the regular close contact nature of training and competing in a team sport, the players may be deemed at high risk of contracting and becoming unwell with influenza. The illness can result in missed training and/or matches and potentially spread to other members of the squad or staff. Thus, prevention is important to maintain good health of the team during a season.

This preventative measure seems sensible. However, in this current generation of evidence-based medicine, a quick search of Medline and Embase revealed no studies regarding this specific topic.  Treatment within the Sports Medicine setting is already in danger of having a reputation of not necessarily following evidence-based practice with PRP, shockwave therapy and traumeel to name but a few. Although not proven, they still may have a role in management and this may also be true of the preventative influenza vaccinations. However, there is also another theory that administration of the vaccine itself can result in influenza symptoms.

Is this yet another area of research that needs more work to determine if prophylactic influenza vaccinations are effective? For what it is worth, anecdotally I do advocate its use and, at the club I work at, I try to stab as many of the players as possible!


Dr Justin Yeoh is a Sport and Exercise Medicine Registrar in the London Deanery, General Practitioner in Reading and Team Doctor for Reading Football Club.

Dr James Thing co-ordinates “Sport and Exercise Medicine: The UK trainee perspective” monthly blog series.

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